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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Book Review

The story of Edith Mirante travels among the indigenous peoples of Burma's remote war zones, bordering China, India, Laos and Bangladesh.
(Teri Fitsell )

Edith Mirante has been aptly described by her publisher as "a dedicated writer with the soul of a poet and the passion of a revolutionary". She describes herself simply as a gatherer of information on Myanmar. It's a task to which this American artist has dedicated nearly 20 years of her life. Her commentaries are regularly broadcast on the BBC World Service, she's lectured for Amnesty International and Greenpeace, and she's given evidence about Myanmar before the US Congress. 

Mirante's first book, Burmese Looking Glass, was about her clandestine journeys into Myanmar from Thailand in the mid-1980s. It was subtitled A Human Rights Adventure and a Jungle Revolution and described how her eyes were opened to oppression in Myanmar. In 1986, she founded Project Maje ( to disseminate information around the world about the plight of the Myanmese people. Her efforts in Thailand resulted in her being jailed twice and then deported in 1988. 

Mirante's new book is as interesting as the first. Starting in 1991, it describes her journeys through China, Laos, India and Bangladesh to talk secretly to indigenous people struggling to gain their freedom. She visits the rebel Chin National Front, active on the Bangladesh/Myanmar border; she crosses treacherous hills on the China border with members of the Kachin IO's 3rd brigade to visit the Kachin State; and she hides out in Chittagong, Bangladesh, awaiting her chance to reach the Hill Tracts of Bandarban. 

The book is so named after the words of an Arakan ruler who described "the futility of an army pursuing hill tribe raiders as an elephant trying to 'enter the hole of a rat'". However, Mirante says that, "in modern Burma, the elephantine Tatmadaw tramples everything in its path, rat holes, nests of insurgents, peaceful villages, alike". 

The book details not only human rights abuses but also the destruction of the Burmese environment under SLORC (the State Law and Order Restoration Committee, now known as the SPDC), "the junta ruling Burma following its suppression of the 1988 democracy uprising". She describes unregulated logging, strategic deforestation, gas and oil exploration and gold mining, the use of dangerous pesticides such as paraquat and increases in pollution.

The list of environmental crimes is almost as long as the list of different factions of rebels struggling in these remote areas. There are the Chins, the Was, Kachins, Karens, Rakhines, Mons and many others. The succinct glossary helps sort any confusion. 

It's the author's no-frills passion for her subject, as well as her wit and humour that make the book so readable. Her journeys comprise arduous days of hiking over hills, wading through streams and hiding from the authorities. Her aim is to reach the people who live in the midst of the struggle and destruction and tell their stories to the world. She rarely focuses on herself or how (or why) she endures the dangers, rigours and hardships that go with her task. Nor does she indulge in polemic or cries of outrage. She tells it as she sees it - quietly, without fuss, simply gathering information with which to confront the authorities later. 

In Burmese Looking Glass, Mirante traveled among opium drug lords and troops of women soldiers. In Rat Hole, she enters the worlds of guerilla warfare and heroin and jade trading, and realizes the full extent of the AIDs pandemic in the region. 

The book covers one of the worst natural disasters of the 20th century - the typhoon and tsunami that engulfed Bangladesh in April 1991, killing 139,000. As she relates seeing bodies washed ashore and caught in trees, the passage has deep resonance, given the events of December 26, 2004. 

Among the hardship and tragedy, there's humour and irony. At one stage Mirante narrowly avoids being caught at a dangerous checkpoint because a truck in front of hers nearly swerves off the road, and by the time it's salvaged the guard agrees there's no time for security. She spends much time in cockroach-infested hotel bathrooms repeatedly dying her blonde hair black so as to blend in.

In the end though, Mirante's message is a simple one, just the two words that close the book: "Free Burma." 

South China Morning Post (Hong Kong). 29 May 2005.

"DOWN THE RAT HOLE: Adventures Underground on Burma's Frontiers" is the new book by Edith Mirante (author of "Burmese Looking Glass") published by Orchid Press: 

In Asia, order online from: 

"Down the Rat Hole" is available at 

It can also be requested from your local bookshop or ordered at: 


Sunthorn Sripanngern: Sun, 13 Feb 2005


Nai Tun Thein is a Mon scholar and has been a respected leader in the Mon national political movement for over 5 decades. He has committed his life to Mon self-determination and has been actively involved in promoting democracy for Burma for more than a half century. Before Burma gained independence in 1948, he worked with Nai Shwe Kyin, the leader of the New Mon State Party; both became influential figures in their respective party.

Nai Tun Thein has been and continues to be an excellent role model for the younger generation and has worked continuously for political representation not only for the Mon but for all the political nationalities in Burma. In a sense he epitomizes the movement by placing his work for Mon self-determination before personal interest. He expresses his goodwill to many and his kindness is immeasurable. By nature he is quiet and unassuming, but is an active and vocal participate in promoting democracy and participates at all levels in national and political organizations. He went through a rough time and spent (10) years in Burmese jungle outposts working with his friends and colleagues, but remained closely connected to ordinary Mon people.

Widely respected by all Mon for his honesty, keen sense of history, and open mind, he is known for his dedication to Mon education. He loves literature and has written several books and articles for the Mon and other nationalities. In his free time he enjoys teaching classic Mon literature and describes in lively detail Mon stone inscriptions. Most of his (88) years has been spent overcoming suffering, unfairness and injustice. While he could retire anytime and live comfortably as he is loved by many, he chooses to persist in struggling for Mon rights and social justice. He still takes the local bus to downtown crowded Rangoon. Although he sometimes says he is getting old, he never shows any sign of giving up the struggle until his goals of equality, democracy, peace and self-determination for his people have been reached. I pack my clothes in a bag, I am ready to be detained by the (MI), says Nai Tun Thein whenever he leaves his home.  His spirit has touched thousands and has gained the respect he deserves as a leader and a teacher. Seen from far away, the victory of national freedom is sometimes hazy and sometimes not seen at all, but we can count on him to keep walking ahead to achieve our dream.

Kun Yekha (author of Nai Tun Theins biography)

For who those would like to have the book, please drop a line with you/your organization address to;
<> or <>
We can be called any time at;
Nai Sunthorn Sriperngern (66 6 147 1474 or 66 2 428 6232)
Nai Kun Yekha (66 1 561 0860)


Mon Community Rights (Thai Version): The case of the impact of the gas pipeline towards local community and Mon refugees at Sangkhlaburi District, Kanchanaburi Province was published by Nittham Publishing House (Advanced Law Books Publisher) in Bangkok in March 2004.

With the size of 14.5 x 21 cm, 498 pages and price in Thai Baht 350, this research surveys Mon ethno-history from prehistory to the present; from Dvaravati and Hariphunchai in Thailand to Thaton, Martaban and Pegu kingdoms in Burma until the Mon downfall in 1757; the Mon migrations and settlements in Thailand from Ayutthaya to early Bangkok period.  It also covers Mon culture, tradition, and ways of life in Thailand; the roles of Mon people in Thai history and influences of Mon culture in Thailand, in order to synthesize the concept of Mon community rights, with the help of data from Mon ancient law, Mon literature and interviews with Mon people in the communities.

The book found that Mon community rights are also based on the beliefs in animism and Buddhism. The Mon community entity is formed on the awareness of distinguished identity of the Mon people. The structure of power ideology and relation of community are from the level of the family's House-hold Spirit, the clan's Ancestor Spirit, the Guardian Spirit of the village, the monastery of the group of villages and localities. The Mon Community Rights includes the rights in using language, protection from the community, religious belief, community establishment, community leader election, receiving justice, the right of the first comer, the benefit maker as necessary and the common resource management.

The book surveys the political movements for autonomous rights of the Mon people in Burma, history of Mon settlement in Sangkhlaburi District, Kanchanaburi Province, the Thai-Burma gas pipeline project and its impact to the local Mon community.

It evaluates violations of human rights against the Mon people, on the non-acquisition of Thai nationality, and discrimination practices on Mon refugees. The incidents invoke the call for Thai nationality and official refugee status. The conclusion suggests a policy for the Mon community rights and human rights for Mon refugees in Thailand.

пїЅIt is a good information paper for many Thai Mons who can not read in their language.  The Thai Mons are getting more active and even have the rights to officially learn their language; but it is still a long way to go because many resource (teachers and materials) are needed to revitalize their language,пїЅ said a Thai Mon leader in Bangkok.


A Land Without Evil: Stopping the Genocide of the Burma's Karen People by Benedict Rogers will be published in March 2004.

According to the source, the book tells the history of the Karen people but is focused on the suffering of all the people of Burma.

The author, Benedict Rogers who is a journalist and human rights campaigner, currently working for Christian Solidarity Worldwide in Washington, DC, aims to draw attention to the genocide and ethnic cleansing taking place in Burma today. It is not intended to be a scholarly, anthropological book, but more a call to action.

The book, contains about 254 pages with photographs, includes chapters on the democracy movement of 1988, the Free Burma Rangers, the Internally Displaced People and refugees, and the armed resistance. It contains inspiring stories of courage, faith and dignity, alongside stories of suffering.

Dr. David Aikman, former senior correspondent of TIME in his review said, "Benedict Rogers has written a moving and detailed account of the tragedy of the oppressed Karen people of Burma. He brings to life one of the most under-reported examples of ethnic repression in modern times. A LAND WITHOUT EVIL should be read by every responsible citizen of those nations claiming to espouse the principles of global justice."

(Kao-Wao, June 10, 2002)

A political history of the Mon people of lower Burma and Thailand, "The Golden Sheldrake" written by Ashley South will be available in July this year according to the author.

Charting Mon history from the earliest times to the present, the book describes the origins of Burma's ethnic politics in the pre-colonial era and developments during the British (and Japanese) colonial periods. Following independence in 1948, Burma was plunged into a civil war, which still drags on today. 'The Golden Sheldrake' explores the background to and major episodes in the war, and compares the experiences of various parties to the conflict, including the Mon, Karen and Kachin ethnic communities and insurgent organisations. It describes the dynamics of armed conflict in Burma, and examines the controversial series of cease-fire agreements negotiated since 1989, between various insurgent armies and the military government. Exploring the relationship between the Burmese democracy movement led by Aung San Suu Kyi, the ethnic insurgents, international and local non-government organisations, and Burma's one million-plus refugees, the book concludes by looking at the future of the &#8216;ethnic question' in Burma.

The Golden Sheldrake' will be of interest to students of Southeast Asian history and politics. Anthropologists will appreciate the sustained focus on issues of identity and assimilation, whilst the author's first-hand accounts of the humanitarian crisis along the Thailand-Burma border are of particular relevance to the study of displacement and under-development.

Kao-Wao conducted an interview with the author in January of this year. Ashley South lived and worked with the Mons for seven years and is currently studying at the University of London's School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS). "With one or two exceptions, Westerners writing about contemporary Burmese politics have tended to neglect the Mon and other ethnic minority groups, and down-play the significance of the cease-fire process in Burma. At the risk of over-emphasising the role of the former, and without necessarily endorsing the latter, the book is an attempt to redress the balance," said the author during interview.

Those who are interested to view the book please do so to Curzon Press Ltd., 51a George Street, Richmond, Surrey TW9 1HJ, UK and email to


Email: ,,

Phone: + 66 81 561-0860, 66 85 289 5376, 66 87 926 7519 ( Thailand )

+ 1 403 248-2027 ( Canada )

Mailing address

P.O. Box 28
Kanchanaburi, 71240
Online Burma Library --


Kaowao Newsgroup is committed to social justice, peace, and democracy in Burma. We hope to be able to provide more of an in-depth analysis that will help to promote lasting peace and change within Burma.  Editors, reporters, writers, and overseas volunteers are dedicated members of the Mon activist community based in Thailand.

Our motto is working together for change and lasting peace.


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